Private vs. independent schools: what's the difference?

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Though often confused, independent schools and private schools are two distinct alternatives to public education.


Both address the needs of students who desire something different than what public education offers. However, there is a key difference between what institutions are designated private or independent. This distinction lies in their structure and their acquisition of funding.

Private schools are generally understood to be for-profit organizations established and controlled by one or more persons.

Independent most often signifies a not-for-profit school that is accountable to a board of trustees, which operates at arm’s length from the administration. As well, schools referred to as independent often point to their accreditation by a peer review body.

Five provinces where independent schools receive public funding require that they be recognized as accredited by a government body. But in Ontario, for example, independent schools share no across-the-board accreditation. Most independent schools are affiliated with associations that demand specific standards of their members.

Most independent schools are affiliated with associations that demand specific standards of their members.

According to recent statistics, around 119,000 students in Ontario alone attend independent schools and about 349,000 students across Canada. Some of these schools have even been around since the early 1800’s.

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